Don’t let the trailers misguide you. “Bulbbul” is not a horror film that will scare you with ghosts in makeup and demons in CGI. Instead, it a hard-hitting film based on supernatural elements, which will scare your reality. Only a couple of weeks into its release, Bulbbul has been widely hailed as a powerful feminist film. With all its tactfulness, storytelling and factual representation, it deserves every bit of applause it’s getting.
The film is placed in Bengal Presidency in 1881 and starts with the wedding ceremony of five-year-old Bulbbul (Ruchi Mahajan/Tripti Dimri) who is getting married to Indranil (Rahul Bose), a rich landlord, who is also a few decades older than her. A mere child who is distracted by the proceedings around her, Bulbbul is actually being tricked into the marriage, and is shocked to find that Satya, closer to her age and who she thinks is her husband, is her brother-in-law, youngest in the family after Mahendra (Bose), Indranil’s twin. The child-bride Bulbbul forms a very natural bond of friendship with Satya (Varun Buddhadev/Avinash Tiwary) but is also burdened by the responsibility of being the ‘thakurain’ of the ancestral mansion under the scrutiny of her sister-in-law Binodini (Paoli Dam).
The narrative then jumps to 20 years later when everything in the village has changed. The once booming mansion is now somewhat desolate and the village is shrouded by what the locals believe to be an evil woman’s spirit. Satya, who returns home after five years abroad, finds that his eldest brother has left home while the younger twin has been murdered under mysterious contexts. His childhood playmate and sister-in-law Bulbbul has, also to his surprise, changed her personality, which confuses him. At the same time, reports of unsolved murder cases in the village start mounting.
Told after that in flashbacks and present narratives, the story of Bulbbul then unmasks the dirty faces within the family and its periphery. Written and directed by Anvita Dutt, and produced by Indian actress Anushka Sharma, Bulbbul takes on traditions, patriarchal customs, and everything that suppresses women. Starting with the now criminalized tradition of taking child brides, to the reference of women’s toenails as an accessory to control their spirit, to women who have been tamed by patriarchy trying to lasso other women into it—Bulbbul questions the root of these customs. Also, the film targets pedophiles, sexual abusers and violent perpetrators as the scum of the society who need to be dealt with the harshest punishments.
The screenplay of Bulbbul, however strong the theme, does seem to lag at times but there are plenty of good elements in the film to mask this weakness. The storyline itself, spun out of folklores, is somewhat predictable but the subject it deals with makes it very relevant as well.
As for the acting in Bulbbul, the actors create a world of their own. With most actors coming from outside commercial cinemas, their presence gives newness to the setting, and they are convincing enough to transport us way back in time.
Tripti Dimri as the adult Bulbbul is what her character needs to be—bonded yet liberated, innocent yet beguiling, simple yet mystifying. Tripti’s expressions don’t give away the storm she has built inside and that could be the most important requirement for her role.
Similarly, Avinash Tiwary as adult Satya offers strong shoulders for the story to rest upon. His re-entry into the scene as an adult starts a chain of events resolving towards the climax. Avinash takes on the burden of being a pivot to the plot and guides us through the story without appearing overzealous. Paoli Dam as the luxuriously living Binodini turned widow in penance also makes her presence felt.
Another remarkable part of the film is its camerawork and lighting. Siddharth Diwan’s cinematography maintains the etiquettes of a horror film through PoVs, handheld shots, and long-medium-short frame combinations to never let the audience’s view settle. Infused with the eccentric red lighting, the screen appears magical.
Who should watch it?
Again, Bulbbul is not your usual, scary horror film. It as an important tale nonetheless, told from a feminist perspective, and recommended for everyone, regardless of their age and gender.